The following piece was written by Mary Helen Cagle, an Advocacy intern at STAR. As part of her internship, Mary Helen wrote this essay on revenge porn to change the conversation about sexting. We loved it so much, we had to feature it on our blog (with Mary Helen’s permission, of course). We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Last night I found myself looking through the trending topic, “Justin Bieber penis.” I’m not proud to say that I’ve done this with several celebrities and several of my peers. Revenge Porn, sharing nude pictures of another person without their consent, is a modernized twist on one of the oldest crimes in the world: sexual assault. It can happen to anyone and drastically impacts victims. Last November, Jennifer Lawrence spoke to Vanity Fair about the leak of her nude photos to the public:
I can’t even describe to anybody what it feels like to have my naked body shoot across the world like a news flash against my will. It just makes me feel like a piece of meat that’s being passed around for a profit.
– Jennifer Lawrence
The sexual pictures that Jennifer took were sent privately to her boyfriend; most young adults today take part in this same activity. In a recent study, 82% of adults said they’ve “sexted” in the last year. Many consenting adults say sexting actually . Sexting also doesn’t involve many of the health risks that come with sexual contact, so why do people consider it a big risk?
In our minds, we have to avoid sexting in order to avoid revenge porn; society tells us that it’s our own fault when these crimes are committed against us. We continuously focus on preventing ourselves from becoming victims rather than holding offenders accountable for their crime. If you don’t want to end up like Jennifer, don’t take the pictures:
Your best bet is to avoid sending any kind of media that could be misconstrued as sexual in nature.
– Garrett Hines, The Daily Reveille, “Opinion: Sexting is never safe”
Technically, Garrett is correct: not taking the pictures will never lead to public shaming. In the same sense, not driving a car will never lead to a wreck; however, when someone else runs a stop sign and slams into your driver’s side, no one is telling you that you should’ve walked. And, whereas running a stop sign can be a result of negligence, violating someone else’s privacy is no accident. We have to recognize that this public violation of privacy is a crime:
It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change.
Anybody who looked at those pictures, you’re perpetuating a sexual offense. You should cower with shame. Even people who I know and love say, ‘Oh, yeah, I looked at the pictures.’ I don’t want to get mad, but at the same time I’m thinking, I didn’t tell you that you could look at my naked body.
You shouldn’t have to walk around knowing everyone has seen your body before you realize that this is not okay to do to someone. This crime has nothing to do with sex. There are no mixed signals, regretful encounters, or other common myths associated with sexual assault. The person sending out this picture knows they will not be held accountable for their actions, because we are taught to avoid becoming victims but not how to avoid becoming offenders. When it’s hammered into our heads over and over that we shouldn’t take pictures we don’t want the world to see, we also apply this logic in judging other situations. If they didn’t want the world to see this picture, they shouldn’t have taken it, therefore I have the right to send it to someone else and continue the cycle of violation. This is wrong. No one has the right to distribute a picture of someone’s intimate moments without his or her consent.
The person who receives these pictures has complete control over them for as long as they can hang on to them.
The person receiving this picture has complete control over whether or not they will choose to share it. Anyone forwarding these pictures is participating in an inexcusable privacy breach. This crime is about power, control, and shame.
Now, imagine on your wedding day: Instead of passive aggressively judging people based on what kind of gifts they brought, you have to explain to your grandmother why there’s a Twitter account dedicated to your bare phallus. Or on the day of your big job interview, your future boss asks why the #PoochPic applies to you.
– Garrett Hines
Hines perfectly describes the amount of shame applied to a victim of revenge porn. The perpetrator, however, does not receive any of this shame. What if the situations were reversed? Imagine on your wedding day, you have to explain to your grandmother why you violated someone’s basic privacy simply because you could. Or on the day of your big job interview, your future boss asks why you publicly violated someone.
Maybe one day, we will recognize this crime and stop shaming victims. Progress is being made; Louisiana passed a bill this summer against the nondisclosure of a private image. Several social media sites have also banned these pictures:
Our philosophy has always been that Search should reflect the whole web. But revenge porn images are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims—predominantly women. So going forward, we’ll honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results. This is a narrow and limited policy, similar to how we treat removal requests for other highly sensitive personal information, such as bank account numbers and signatures, that may surface in our search results. – Google Public Policy Blog
Technology is growing and changing rapidly, and our society is trying to adjust. We have to stop associating technology with fear and take back our power. As social media sites change their policies and new state laws are introduced, we have to change the way we see and respond to this act of violence.